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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Taking a "Smart Phone" Overseas? Beware!

Great info from and thanks to Kim at Kim This is must reading if you take a “smart phone” overseas! I had no idea about this. Don’t come home to a $1000.00 phone bill!
Link to Komando’s site follows.

Q. I recently took a trip to London. I brought along my iPhone, but used it as little as possible. However, when I got home my bill was still sky high. AT&T graciously worked with me to lower it, this time. Now I'm concerned about future trips abroad. The fee tiers are so confusing. It's time for a Kim Komando simplified explanation. Thanks!
-Scott from Middlebury, CT, listens to my national radio show out of New York City on WCBS 880 AM

A. You certainly aren't the first person this has happened to, Scott. Back when the iPhone was released, I'd hear stories like yours all the time. People would return home from an overseas trip to be greeted by bills for tens of thousands of dollars. I think I would pass out if I ever got a bill like that!
Fortunately, AT&T will often cut you some slack the first time it happens. It doesn't want any the negative publicity. It is your job to watch your cellphone usage and costs, of course. But that can be difficult, given the confusing fee tiers.
Let's take a look at why you racked up such a huge bill. Then, I'll give you pointers to prevent this from happening again. For some reason, cellular companies offer so many packages and plans. It drives me crazy.
Many people think you can just keep phone use to a minimum when traveling. Wrong. That concept may work with regular cellphones. But the iPhone, Android and other phones are what we call smartphones. It's always working, even when you're not. It might be checking email or receiving text messages.
Apps could be accessing online information while you're using them. Visual voicemail uses quite a bit of data. All this use adds up quickly.
The first important thing to remember is that all cellular plans are domestic. You have to purchase international plans separately. Using a domestic plan internationally will incur the highest possible rates. Let's start by examining what those rates are.
For now I'll stick with AT&T's rates. The other carriers' rates are in the same ballpark. For specifics, check your carrier's Website or call it.
The voice usage rates will change depending on country. Let's use the United Kingdom as an example. Placing a call in the United Kingdom will cost you $1.39 a minute. So, a five minute phone conversation costs you $7. Ouch. I hope the call is worth it!
International data use is billed at $0.0195 per kilobyte. That number is very misleading because it looks so small. Besides, most people don't really know what a kilobyte is or how to measure it. It actually translates to almost $20 per megabyte!
To put that in perspective, Google's homepage is 145KB. Visiting it once will cost you $2.83. That's before you even run a search! Watching 1 minute of streaming video could cost more than $100. Cha-ching! It's easy to see how fast you can end up with an outrageous bill.
AT&T has a data calculator on its site. This shows you average data amounts for common tasks. It will make you reconsider using data abroad.
Text messages aren't any better. It costs $0.50 to send one message. You are charged $0.20 for every message received. Picture and video messages are an astronomical $1.30 per message to send. Receiving one costs $0.30 per message.
You could "barely" use your phone and rack up a substantial bill. Don't forget that your phone may still be working in the background. You won't even notice it draining your bank account.
There are a few steps you can take to prevent huge bills. The first step is to turn off data roaming. This will disable email, browsing, visual voicemail and downloads when connecting internationally.
To do this, go to Settings>>General>>Network. Make sure Data Roaming is set to Off. It should be off by default, but it never hurts to check.
This setting can be somewhat finicky. You should also turn off the Cellular Data option just above it. That's the setting for turning off data services domestically. Even if the phone gets confused about its location, it still won't access data.
You can still get email and browse the Web. You just need to use Wi-Fi instead of a cellular connection. Most airports and hotels have Wi-Fi. You may find a free hotspot. In other cases, you may have to pay between $10 and $20 per day. That's kind of pricey for Wi-Fi, but think of the alternative!
You can also access voicemail manually. Just note that international voice rates apply. Tell your friends to leave short messages.
Turning off data roaming doesn't stop text or picture messaging. Messaging is part of the voice package, not the data package. You will still be charged for those when sending or receiving.
Fortunately, you can disable voice calls and messaging with the iPhone's airplane mode. This is controlled in the Settings app. Airplane mode disables the iPhone's cellular radio entirely. That means voice, data, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS are disabled.
However, you can still manually turn the Wi-Fi back on. Just go to Settings>>Wi-Fi. Turn the Wi-Fi to On and select a Wi-Fi network. Bluetooth can also be enabled manually for use with headsets.
There are many apps for calling and texting over Wi-Fi. You can use these to keep in contact with people. They won't run up your bills.
Keep the phone in airplane mode for your entire trip. Switch back to regular mode when you get home. Then you can get your regular texts and voicemail without astronomical charges.
You can accomplish the same thing by removing the iPhone's SIM card. This will keep it from trying to connect to any cellular network. This makes it harder to accidentally use voice or data. You can just use Wi-Fi.
I said earlier that AT&T has international plans for travelers. These aren't the best deals around. However, some people like to use them, so I'll cover them.
For voice calls, you can get the World Traveler plan. This costs $6 a month. In the United Kingdom, it lowers the cost of voice calls to $0.99 per minute. That's better than $1.39, but still not for casual use.
The Global Messaging texting plan costs $10 a month. This lets you send 50 text, picture or video messages. Messages over the 50 limit are charged at $0.40 per message. Without the plan, 50 messages would cost $25, minimum.
Finally, there are the data packages. There are several different tiers. These range from $25 to $200 a month. They let you download 20MB to 200MB, respectively. Going over your limit is billed at $0.005 per KB or $5.12 per MB.
Those plans let you use some limited data without breaking the bank. However, you'll still want to use Wi-Fi as much as possible. You'll also want an app that minimizes your data use.
You can mix and match the plans depending on your use. For example, you might get a data plan only. Some might want the messaging plan alone. It's up to you.
Note that this information doesn't just apply to the iPhone. The iPad and iPad 2 with 3G will need the same consideration. This is true of any 3G-enabled smartphone or tablet.
It's always nerve-wracking when family members travel internationally. Find out how to set up reliable and inexpensive communication:

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